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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 3 - Chapter 4
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 3 - Chapter 4 Post by :dpd1998 Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :786

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 3 - Chapter 4

PART THIRD: CHAPTER IV

Mikolaj of Dlugolas having learned from Jendrek of Kropiwnica about the challenge, required both Zbyszko and the other knight to give him their knightly word that they would not fight without the prince and the _comthur's permission; if they refused, he said he would shut the gates and not permit them to leave the castle. Zbyszko wished to see Danusia as soon as possible, consequently he did not resist; de Lorche, although willing to fight when necessary, was not a bloodthirsty man, therefore he swore upon his knightly honor, to wait for the prince's consent. He did it willingly, because having heard so many songs about tournaments and being fond of pompous feasts, he preferred to fight in the presence of the court, the dignitaries and the ladies; he believed that such a victory would bring greater renown, and he would win the golden spurs more easily. Then he was also anxious to become acquainted with the country and the people, therefore he preferred a delay. Mikolaj of Dlugolas, who had been in captivity among the Germans a long time, and could speak the language easily, began to tell him marvelous tales about the prince's hunting parties for different kinds of beasts not known in the western countries. Therefore Zbyszko and he left the castle about midnight, and went toward Przasnysz, having with them their armed retinues, and men with lanterns to protect them against the wolves, which gathering during the winter in innumerable packs, it was dangerous even for several well armed cavaliers to meet. On this side of Ciechanow there were deep forests, which a short distance beyond Przasnysz were merged into the enormous Kurpiecka wilderness, which on the west joined the impassable forest of Podlasie, and further on Lithuania. Through these forests the Lithuanian barbarians came to Mazowsze, and in 1337 reached Ciechanow, which they burned. De Lorche listened with the greatest interest to the stories, told him by the old guide, Macko of Turoboje. He desired to fight with the Lithuanians, whom as many other western knights did, he had thought were Saracens. In fact he had come on a crusade, wishing to gain fame and salvation. He thought that a war with the Mazurs, half heathenish people, would secure for him entire pardon. Therefore he could scarcely believe his own eyes, when having reached Mazowsze, he saw churches in the towns, crosses on the towers, priests, knights with holy signs on their armor and the people, very daring indeed, and ready for a fight, but Christian and not more rapacious than the Germans, among whom the young knight had traveled. Therefore, when he was told that these people had confessed Christ for centuries, he did not know what to think about the Knights of the Cross; and when he learned that Lithuania was baptized by the command of the late queen, his surprise and sorrow were boundless.

He began to inquire from Macko of Turoboje, if in the forest toward which they were riding, there were any dragons to whom the people were obliged to sacrifice young girls, and with whom one could fight. But Macko's answer greatly disappointed him.

"In the forest, there are many beasts, wolves, bisons and bears with which there is plenty of work," answered the Mazur. "Perhaps in the swamps there are some unclean spirits; but I never heard about dragons, and even if they were there, we would not give them girls, but we would destroy them. Bah! had there been any, the Kurpie would have worn belts of their skins long ago."

"What kind of people are they; is it possible to fight with them?" asked de Lorche.

"One can fight with them, but it is not desirable," answered Macko; "and then it is not proper for a knight, because they are peasants."

"The Swiss are peasants also. Do they confess Christ?"

"There are no such people in Mazowsze. They are our people. Did you see the archers in the castles? They are all the Kurpie, because there are no better archers than they are."

"They cannot be better than the Englishmen and the Scotch, whom I saw at the Burgundian court."

"I have seen them also in Malborg," interrupted the Mazur. "They are strong, but they cannot compare with the Kurpie, among whom a boy seven years old, will not be allowed to eat, until he has knocked the food with an arrow from the summit of a pine."

"About what are you talking?" suddenly asked Zbyszko, who had heard the word "Kurpie" several times.

"About the English and the Kurpiecki archers. This knight says that the English and the Scotch are the best."

"I saw them at Wilno. Owa! I heard their darts passing my ears. There were knights there from all countries, and they announced that they would eat us up without salt; but after they tried once or twice, they lost their appetite."

Macko laughed and repeated Zbyszko's words to Sir de Lorche.

"I have heard about that at different courts," answered the Lotaringer; "they praised your knights' bravery, but they blamed them because they helped the heathen against the Knights of the Cross."

"We defended the nation which wished to be baptized, against invasion and wrong. The Germans wished to keep them in idolatry, so as to have a pretext for war."

"God shall judge them," answered de Lorche.

"Perhaps He will judge them soon," answered Macko of Turoboje.

But the Lotaringer having heard that Zbyszko had been at Wilno, began to question Macko, because the fame of the knightly combats fought there, had spread widely throughout the world. That duel, fought by four Polish and four French knights, especially excited the imagination of western warriors. The consequence was that de Lorche began to look at Zbyszko with more respect, as upon a man who had participated in such a famous battle; he also rejoiced that he was going to fight with such a knight.

Therefore they rode along apparently good friends, rendering each other small services during the time for refreshment on the journey and treating each other with wine. But when it appeared from the conversation between de Lorche and Macko of Turoboje, that Ulryka von Elner was not a young girl, but a married woman forty years old and having six children, Zbyszko became indignant, because this foreigner dared not only to compare an old woman with Danusia, but even asked him to acknowledge her to be the first among women.

"Do you not think," said he to Macko, "that an evil spirit has turned his brain? Perhaps the devil is sitting in his head like a worm in a nut and is ready to jump on one of us during the night. We must be on our guard."

Macko of Turoboje began to look at the Lotaringer with a certain uneasiness and finally said:

"Sometimes it happens that there are hundreds of devils in a possessed man, and if they are crowded, they are glad to go in other people. The worst devil is the one sent by a woman."

Then he turned suddenly to the knight:

"May Jesus Christ be praised!"

"I praise him also," answered de Lorche, with some astonishment.

Macko was completely reassured.

"No, don't you see," said he, "if the devil were dwelling in him, he would have foamed immediately, or he would have been thrown to the earth, because I asked him suddenly. We can go."

In fact, they proceeded quietly. The distance between Ciechanow and Przasnysz is not great, and during the summer a cavalier riding a good horse can travel from one city to the other in two hours; but they were riding very slowly on account of the darkness and the drifts of snow. They started after midnight and did not arrive at the prince's hunting house, situated near the woods, beyond Przasnysz, until daybreak. The wooden mansion was large and the panes of the windows were made of glass balls. In front of the house were the well-sweeps and two barns for horses, and round the mansion were many tents made of skins and booths hastily built of the branches of pine trees. The fires shone brightly in front of the tents, and round them were standing the huntsmen who were dressed in coats made of sheepskins, foxskins, wolfskins and bearskins, and having the hair turned outside. It seemed to Sir de Lorche that he saw some wild beasts standing on two legs, because the majority of these men had caps made of the heads of animals. Some of them were standing, leaning on their spears or crossbows; others were busy winding enormous nets made of ropes; others were turning large pieces of urus and elk meat which was hanging over the fire, evidently preparing for breakfast. Behind them were the trunks of enormous pines and more people; the great number of people astonished the Lotaringer who was not accustomed to see such large hunting parties.

"Your princes," said he, "go to a hunt as if to a war."

"To be sure," answered Macko of Turoboje; "they lack neither hunting implements nor people."

"What are we going to do?" interrupted Zbyszko; "they are still asleep in the mansion."

"Well, we must wait until they get up," answered Macko; "we cannot knock at the door and awaken the prince, our lord."

Having said this, he conducted them to a fire, near which the Kurpie threw some wolfskins and urusskins, and then offered them some roasted meat. Hearing a foreign speech, the people began to gather round to see the German. Soon the news was spread by Zbyszko's attendants that there was a knight "from beyond the seas," and the crowd became so great that the lord of Turoboje was obliged to use his authority to shield the foreigner from their curiosity. De Lorche noticed some women in the crowd also dressed in skins, but very beautiful; he inquired whether they also participated in the hunt.

Macko explained to him that they did not take part in the hunting, but only came to satisfy their womanly curiosity, or to purchase the products of the towns and to sell the riches of the forest. The court of the prince was like a fireplace, round which were concentrated two elements--rural and civic. The Kurpie disliked to leave their wilderness, because they felt uneasy without the rustling of the trees above their heads; therefore the inhabitants of Przasnysz brought their famous beer, their flour ground in wind mills or water mills built on the river Wengierka, salt which was very rare in the wilderness, iron, leather and other fruits of human industry, taking in exchange skins, costly furs, dried mushrooms, nuts, herbs, good in case of sickness, or clods of amber which were plentiful among the Kurpie. Therefore round the prince's court there was the noise of a continual market, increased during the hunting parties, because duty and curiosity attracted the inhabitants from the depths of the forests.

De Lorche listened to Macko, looking with curiosity at the people, who, living in the healthy resinous air and eating much meat as was the custom with the majority of the peasants in those days, astonished the foreign travelers by their strength and size. Zbyszko was continually looking at the doors and windows of the mansion, hardly able to remain quiet. There was light in one window only, evidently in the kitchen, because steam was coming out through the gapes between the panes.

In the small doors, situated in the side of the house, servants in the prince's livery appeared from time to time, hurrying to the wells for water. These men being asked if everybody was still sleeping, answered that the court, wearied by the previous day's hunting, was still resting, but that breakfast was being prepared. In fact through the window of the kitchen, there now issued the smell of roasted meat and saffron, spreading far among the fires. Finally the principal door was opened, showing the interior of a brightly lighted hall, and on the piazza appeared a man whom Zbyszko immediately recognized as one of the _rybalts_, whom he had seen with the princess in Krakow. Having perceived him, and waiting neither for Macko of Turoboje, nor for de Lorche, Zbyszko rushed with such an impetus toward the mansion, that the astonished Lotaringer asked:

"What is the matter with the young knight?"

"There is nothing the matter with him," answered Macko of Turoboje; "he is in love with a girl of the princess' court and he wants to see her as soon as possible."

"Ah!" answered de Lorche, putting both of his hands on his heart. He began to sigh so deeply that Macko shrugged his shoulders and said to himself:

"Is it possible that he is sighing for that old woman? It may be that his senses are impaired!"

In the meanwhile he conducted de Lorche into the large hall of the mansion which was ornamented with the horns of bisons, elks and deer, and was lighted by the large logs burning in the fireplace. In the middle of the hall stood a table covered with _kilimek_(96) and dishes for breakfast; there were only a few courtiers present, with whom Zbyszko was talking. Macko of Turoboje introduced Sir de Lorche to them. More courtiers were coming at every moment; the majority of them were fine looking men, with broad shoulders and fallow hair; all were dressed for hunting. Those who were acquainted with Zbyszko and were familiar with his adventure in Krakow, greeted him as an old friend--it was evident that they liked him. One of them said to him:

(Footnote 96: A woolen material, made by Polish
peasants. In some provinces _kilimeks are very
artistic on account of the odd designs and the
harmony of the colors.)


"The princess is here and Jurandowna also; you will see her soon, my dear boy; then you will go with us to the hunting party."

At this moment the two guests of the prince, the Knights of the Cross, entered: brother Hugo von Danveld, _starosta of Ortelsburg,(97) and Zygfried von Loeve, bailiff of Jansbork. The first was quite a young man, but stout, having a face like a beer drunkard, with thick, moist lips; the other was tall with stern but noble features. It seemed to Zbyszko that he had seen Danveld before at the court of Prince Witold and that Henryk, bishop of Plock, had thrown him from his horse during the combat in the lists. These reminiscences were disturbed by the entrance of Prince Janusz, whom the Knights of the Cross and the courtiers saluted. De Lorche, the _comthurs and Zbyszko also approached him, and he welcomed them cordially but with dignity. Immediately the trumpets resounded, announcing that the prince was going to breakfast; they resounded three times; and the third time, a large door to the right was opened and Princess Anna appeared, accompanied by the beautiful blonde girl who had a lute hanging on her shoulder.


(Footnote 97: Szczytno in Polish.)


Zbyszko immediately stepped forward and kneeled on both knees in a position full of worship and admiration. Seeing this, those present began to whisper, because Zbyszko's action surprised the Mazurs and some of them were even scandalized. Some of the older ones said: "Surely he learned such customs from some knights living beyond the sea, or perhaps even from the heathen themselves, because there is no custom like it even among the Germans." But the younger ones said: "No wonder, she saved his life." But the princess and Jurandowna did not recognize Zbyszko at once, because he kneeled with his back toward the fire and his face was in the shadow. The princess thought that it was some courtier, who, having been guilty of some offence, besought her intervention with the prince; but Danusia having keener sight, advanced one step, and having bent her fair head, cried suddenly:

"Zbyszko!"

Then forgetting that the whole court and the foreign guests were looking at her, she sprang like a roe toward the young knight and encircling his neck with her arms, began to kiss his mouth and his cheeks, nestling to him and caressing him so long that the Mazurs laughed and the princess drew her back.

Then Zbyszko embraced the feet of the princess; she welcomed him, and asked about Macko, whether he was alive or not, and if alive whether he had accompanied Zbyszko. Finally when the servants brought in warm dishes, she said to Zbyszko:

"Serve us, dear little knight, and perhaps not only now at the table, but forever."

Danusia was blushing and confused, but was so beautiful, that not only Zbyszko but all the knights present were filled with pleasure; the _starosta of Szczytno, put the palm of his hands to his thick, moist lips; de Lorche was amazed, and asked:

"By Saint Jacob of Compostella, who is that girl?"

To this the _starosta of Szczytno, who was short, stood on his toes and whispered in the ear of the Lotaringer:

"The devil's daughter."

De Lorche looked at him; then he frowned and began to say through his nose:

"A knight who talks against beauty is not gallant."

"I wear golden spurs, and I am a monk," answered Hugo von Danveld, proudly.

The Lotaringer dropped his head; but after awhile he said:

"I am a relative of the princess of Brabant."

"_Pax! Pax!_" answered the Knight of the Cross. "Honor to the mighty knights and friends of the Order from whom, sir, you shall soon receive your golden spurs. I do not disparage the beauty of that girl; but listen, I will tell you who is her father."

But he did not have time to tell him, because at that moment, Prince Janusz seated himself at the table; and having learned before from the bailiff of Jansbork about the mighty relatives of Sir de Lorche, he invited him to sit beside him. The princess and Danusia were seated opposite. Zbyszko stood as he did in Krakow, behind their chairs, to serve them. Danusia held her head as low as possible over the plate, because she was ashamed. Zbyszko looked with ecstasy at her little head and pink cheeks; and he felt his love, like a river, overflowing his whole breast. He could also feel her sweet kisses on his face, his eyes and his mouth. Formerly she used to kiss him as a sister kisses a brother, and he received the kisses as from a child. Now Danusia seemed to him older and more mature--in fact she had grown and blossomed. Love was so much talked about in her presence, that as a flower bud warmed by the sun, takes color and expands, so her eyes were opened to love; consequently there was a certain charm in her now, which formerly she lacked, and a strong intoxicating attraction beamed from her like the warm beams from the sun, or the fragrance from the rose.

Zbyszko felt it, but he could not explain it to himself. He even forgot that at the table one must serve. He did not see that the courtiers were laughing at him and Danusia. Neither did he notice Sir de Lorche's face, which expressed great astonishment, nor the covetous eyes of the _starosta from Szczytno, who was gazing constantly at Danusia. He awakened only when the trumpets again sounded giving notice that it was time to go into the wilderness, and when the princess Anna Danuta, turning toward him said:

"You will accompany us; you will then have an opportunity to speak to Danusia about your love."

Having said this, she went out with Danusia to dress for the ride on horseback. Zbyszko rushed to the court-yard, where the horses covered with frost were standing. There was no longer a great crowd, because the men whose duty it was to hem in the beasts, had already gone forward into the wilderness with the nets. The fires were quenched; the day was bright but cold. Soon the prince appeared and mounted his horse; behind him was an attendant with a crossbow and a spear so long and heavy, that very few could handle it; but the prince used it very easily, because like the other Mazovian Piasts, he was very strong. There were even women in that family so strong that they could roll iron axes,(98) between their fingers. The prince was also attended by two men, who were prepared to help him in any emergency: they had been chosen from among the landowners of the provinces of Warszawa and Ciechanow; they had shoulders like the trunks of oak trees. Sir de Lorche gazed at them with amazement.

(Footnote 98: Cymbaska who married Ernest Iron Habsburg.)

 

In the meanwhile, the princess and Danusia came out; both wore hoods made of the skins of white weasels. This worthy daughter of Kiejstut could _stitch with a bow better than with a needle; therefore her attendants carried a crossbow behind her. Zbyszko having kneeled on the snow, extended the palm of his hand, on which the princess rested her foot while mounting her horse; then he lifted Danusia into her saddle and they all started. The retinue stretched in a long column, turned to the right from the mansion, and then began slowly to enter the forest.

Then the princess turned to Zbyszko and said:

"Why don't you talk? Speak to her."

Zbyszko, although thus encouraged, was still silent for a moment; but, after quite a long silence, he said:

"Danuska!"

"What, Zbyszku?"

"I love you!"

Here he again stopped, searching for words which he could not find; although he kneeled before the girl like a foreign knight, and showed her his respect in every way, still he could not express his love in words. Therefore he said:

"My love for you is so great that it stops my breathing."

"I also love you, Zbyszku!" said she, hastily.

"Hej, my dearest! hej, my sweet girl" exclaimed Zbyszko. "Hej!" Then he was silent, full of blissful emotion; but the good-hearted and curious princess helped them again.

"Tell her," said she, "how lonesome you were without her, and when we come to a thicket, you may kiss her; that will be the best proof of your love."

Therefore he began to tell how lonesome he was without her in Bogdaniec, while taking care of Macko and visiting among the neighbors. But the cunning fellow did not say a word about Jagienka. When the first thicket separated them from the courtiers and the guests, he bent toward her and kissed her.

During the winter there are no leaves on the hazel bushes, therefore Hugo von Danveld and Sir de Lorche saw him kiss the girl; some of the courtiers also saw him and they began to say among themselves:

"He kissed her in the presence of the princess! The lady will surely prepare the wedding for them soon."

"He is a daring boy, but Jurand's blood is warm also!"

"They are flint-stone and fire-steel, although the girl looks so quiet. Do not be afraid, there will be some sparks from them!"

Thus they talked and laughed; but the _starosta of Szczytno turned his evil face toward Sir de Lorche and asked:

"Sir, would you like some Merlin to change you by his magic power into that knight?"(99)

(Footnote 99: The knight Uter, being in love with
the virtuous Igerna, wife of Prince Gorlas, with
Merlin's help assumed the form of Gorlas, and with
Igerna begot the king Arthur.)

"Would you, sir?" asked de Lorche.

To this the Knight of the Cross, who evidently was filled with jealousy, drew the reins of his horse impatiently, and exclaimed:

"Upon my soul!"

But at that moment he recovered his composure, and having bent his head, he said:

"I am a monk and have made a vow of chastity."

He glanced quickly at the Lotaringer, fearing he would perceive a smile on his face, because in that respect the Order had a bad reputation among the people; and of all among the monks, Hugo von Danveld had the worst. A few years previous he had been vice-bailiff of Sambia. There were so many complaints against him there that, notwithstanding the tolerance with which the Order looked upon similar cases in Marienburg, the grand master was obliged to remove him and appoint him _starosta of the garrison in Szczytno. Afterward he was sent to the prince's court on some secret mission, and having perceived the beautiful Jurandowna, he conceived a violent passion for her, to which even Danusia's extreme youth was no check. But Danveld also knew to what family the girl belonged, and Jurand's name was united in his memory with a painful reminiscence.

De Lorche began to question him:

"Sir, you called that beautiful girl the devil's daughter; why did you call her that?"

Danveld began to relate the story of Zlotorja: how during the restoration of the castle, they captured the prince with the court, and how during that fight Jurandowna's mother died; how since that time Jurand avenged himself on all the Knights of the Cross. Danveld's hatred was apparent during the narration, because he also had some personal reasons for hating Jurand. Two years before, during an encounter, he met Jurand; but the mere sight of that dreadful "Boar of Spychow" so terrified him for the first time in his life that he deserted two of his relatives and his retinue, and fled to Szczytno. For this cowardly act the grand marshal of the Order brought a knightly suit against him; he swore that his horse had become unmanageable and had carried him away from the battlefield; but that incident shut his way to all higher positions in the Order. Of course Danveld did not say anything to Sir de Lorche about that occurrence, but instead he complained so bitterly about Jurand's atrocities and the audacity of the whole Polish nation, that the Lotaringer could not comprehend all he was saying, and said:

"But we are in the country of the Mazurs and not of the Polaks."

"It is an independent principality but the same nation," answered the _starosta_; "they feel the same hatred against the Order. May God permit the German swords to exterminate all this race!"

"You are right, sir; I never heard even among the heathen of such an unlawful deed, as the building of a castle on somebody else's land, as this prince tried to do," said de Lorche.

"He built the castle against us, but Zlotorja is situated on his land, not on ours."

"Then glory be to Christ that he granted you the victory! What was the result of the war?"

"There was no war then?"

"What was the meaning of your victory at Zlotorja?"

"God favored us; the prince had no army with him, only his court and the women."

Here de Lorche looked at the Knight of the Cross with amazement.

"What? During the time of peace you attacked the women and the prince, who was building a castle on his own land?"

"For the glory of the Order and of Christendom."

"And that dreadful knight is seeking vengeance only for the death of his young wife, killed by you during the time of peace?"

"Whosoever raises his hand against a Knight of the Cross, is a son of darkness."

Hearing this, Sir de Lorche became thoughtful; but he did not have time to answer Danveld, because they arrived at a large, snow-covered glade in the woods, on which the prince and his courtiers dismounted.

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